This Is the Wrong Time to Cut Back on Public Housing

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson has answered President Trump’s call to shrink the social safety net. Carson recently offered a proposal that would triple the rent some of America’s poorest families have to pay before they get housing assistance.

Housing advocates are appalled. If they’re pushed out of public housing, many low-income families could face housing instability at every turn. That could mean a lifetime of poverty, tenuous employment, and an unstable environment for kids.

As of March 2018, the median cost of a new home is $337,200, placing home ownership out of the reach of many Americans.

Even for those who try to reach it, redlining and discriminatory lending on the part of banks can render the possible impossible. An analysis from Reveal by The Center for Investigative Reporting found that black Americans in particular — even 50 years after the Fair Housing Act — were denied home loans at rates higher than whites in 48 cities.

Challenges abound in the private rental market, too.

In many American cities, de facto segregation has replaced de jure segregation in the form of gentrification. With rents rising, many low-income Americans are either displaced altogether or forced to compete for more expensive housing options geared toward the gentrifiers better able to afford it.

Even those not directly impacted by gentrification are seeing rising rents and housing insecurity.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average minimum wage required to afford a one-bedroom rental — at a time when the federal minimum wagerefuses to budge beyond $7.25 — was $17.14. There’s not a single city in the country where a full-time minimum wage job can get you a market-rate apartment.

Even before Carson’s proposed changes, many low-income Americans were having a hard time getting access to housing help. Just 35 out of 100 extremely low-income renters find public housing with affordable rent.

That’s no doubt due to the fact that HUD has witnessed budget cuts that go back well before the Trump administration, but have gotten no better since. Carson’s plan fits within a long trajectory of decreased access to assistance from HUD — which, as of 2014, had reduced its offering of public housing units by 200,000 since the mid-1990s.

America is in the midst of a housing crisis, which resulted in more than 553,000 Americans facing homeless on any given night in 2017. That’s the size of a large city. In 2016, evictions, which sociologist Matthew Desmond called a “direct cause of homelessness,” were filed at a rate of four per minute.

Carson’s proposed rent hikes could mean homelessness for those unable to pay. Housing instability is associated with depression, reduced access to basic necessities, and absenteeism and low test scores in children.

On the other hand, the stability provided by public housing positively correlates to increased income. According to a 2016 analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research, each year a teenager spent receiving public housing assistance resulted in their earning hundreds more in income as an adult.

Lack of affordable housing, rising rents, discriminatory lending, gentrification, and homelessness: These are the instabilities, chronicled in a new report by the Poor People’s Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies, that Carson would foist upon already vulnerable families.

Such cruelty isn’t surprising — this is, after all, a man who claimed that poverty was a “state of mind“— but it is disappointing.


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